Priest’s substitution of pronouns invalidates thousands of Arizona baptisms

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A Phoenix Roman Catholic priest has resigned as pastor of his church after his bishop discovered that he had changed the words of the baptismal rite. Fr. Andres Arango’s creative liberties have resulted in his improperly baptizing several thousand children in his thirty years service as a priest in Arizona and California.

The Most Rev. Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix released a pastoral letter last month explaining that Fr. Arango, pastor of St Gregory’s Catholic Church in Phoenix, had altered the words of the service. When performing the rite, Fr. Arango would say “We baptize you,” rather than “I baptize you.”

“We” represents the community baptizing a person, Bishop Olmstead said in a January 14 statement to the Diocese.

“‘I’ represents Christ and Him alone… who presides at all of the sacraments and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” the bishop said. “If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized.” 

Fr. Arango resigned as St Gregory’s pastor on February 1. “It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” Fr Arango said in a statement.

“I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere.” 

Bishop Olmsted reported that Fr. Arango would be “dedicating his time to helping and healing those affected.”

The bishop’s letter is posted below:

January 14, 2022

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:18

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Peace be with you!

I write to you today for the purpose of sharing some information that is as difficult to hear as it is challenging for me to announce. As the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Phoenix and as your spiritual father, I am charged with the responsibility of being vigilant over the celebration of the sacraments. It is my duty to ensure that the sacraments are conferred in a manner that is in keeping with the commands of Jesus Christ in the Gospel and the requirements of sacred tradition.

It is with sincere pastoral concern that I inform the faithful that baptisms performed by Reverend Andres Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, are invalid. This determination was made after careful study by diocesan officials and through consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

Specifically, it was reported to me that Fr. Andres used the formula, “WE baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  The key phrase in question is the use of “We baptize” in place of “I baptize.” The issue with using “We” is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently issued a doctrinal note alerting the Church throughout the world that baptisms were not valid in which the formula was changed to say “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In making this clarification, the Congregation referred to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which reminded us that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

I do not believe Fr. Andres had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments. On behalf of our local Church, I too am sincerely sorry that this error has resulted in disruption to the sacramental lives of a number of the faithful. This is why I pledge to take every step necessary to remedy the situation for everyone impacted. This commitment is, in part, why I write to you today, with the hope that you may assist me and diocesan officials in identifying those in need of the sacraments. If you believe your own reception of baptism may be connected to Fr. Andres Arango’s ministry, please call your parish for more information about how to proceed. I also encourage you to visit, dphx.org/valid-baptism for more information.

I ask that you join me in praying for Fr. Andres and for all of those who are going to be impacted by this unfortunate situation. I pledge to work diligently and swiftly to bring peace to those who have been affected, and I assure you that I and our diocesan staff are wholeheartedly committed to assisting those who have questions about their reception of the sacraments. I invite you to join me in prayer as we move forward together as a local church in reaching out to those who may need this particular pastoral assistance. May God continue to fill us with His grace, mercy and love.

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+Thomas J. Olmsted

Bishop of Phoenix